Everything You Need to Know About Fiddleheads

Have you ever seen fiddleheads growing by the side of the road? Their vibrant green skin and their uniquely coiled spiral shape make them unmistakable. However, for many, putting a vegetable that resembles the scroll of a violin in your dinner sauté is just a bit strange. They are, after all, a bit weird looking and many a person has searched 'how to cook fiddleheads' in front of the display at the farmers market.

In reality, fresh fiddleheads are not anything particularly strange. They are just the immature, green shoots of ferns, and they don't taste much different than asparagus. They grow in the wild and their tightly wound stalks house a burst of nutty green flavor that goes well with a variety of dishes. A common way to eat fiddlehead ferns is sautéed in olive oil with garlic. Fiddlehead pickles are popular way to eat them.

Harvested in the early spring during a short season, fiddleheads are typically foraged by those in the know, just like morel mushrooms. However, if you're lucky, sometimes you can find them at the local farmer's markets  rather than the grocery store. If you are able to find them there, grab a handful or two.

Fiddlehead Safety-Tips: If you are a newcomer to the scene, some types of ferns are poisonous, so if you are out foraging, be careful. You don't want to mistake a fiddlehead for a deadly green shoot.

Additionally, even though they are safe to eat, make sure that you cook them first. Uncooked, they've been  known to cause food-borne illness (the last thing you want is diarrhea from a salad) so clean fiddleheads well. To be extra cautious we suggest blanching them in boiling water.

In spite of the difficulty associated with foraging the young ferns, the patience you exert to collect yourself a handful is worth it. Aside from being a tasty springtime treat, these charming additions to your kitchen repertoire are simply beautiful. Their appearance is that of the scroll on top of a fiddle or violin - hence their name. Plus they are only available for a breath of time.

Why Should I Eat This Weird Vegetable?

The ferns grow wildly in North America, from Ontario and Quebec in Eastern Canada, Maine and the rest of New England, down to the Appalachian mountain range. Not only are they native to North America, but they are also native to Asia.

Fiddlehead greens are particularly popular in Japan and Korea where you might see bibimbap arrive at the table with fiddleheads in a place that specializes in Korean cuisine.

They pack a punch when it comes to nutrition, and are rich in Vitamin C and fatty acids, like omega-3 fatty acids. However, it's important to be careful as ostrich fern fiddleheads do contain a toxin unidentified as the publication of this article.

Cooking Fiddleheads Properly

Before you can enjoy these tightly wound bundles, you must wash them thoroughly first in hot water, then in cold water. Especially for these ferns, that does not mean that you should just run them under tap water.

The best way to wash them is to fill a large bowl with water and rinse them repeatedly. Once the water runs clear, drain the water and then boil these little green shoots for about 15 minutes. When they are soft, then you can use them in your dishes.

Do not eat your fiddleheads raw! In fact, boiling in a large pot before sautéing is highly recommended to extract the optimal texture. Here are four recipes to try out with bracken fiddleheads.

1. Fried Fiddleheads

The gateway to making any unfamiliar food delicious is to fry it. So if you've never had a fiddlehead, try them first when they're golden brown and crispy. Then dip them in ketchup, aioli, vinaigrette, hollandaise sauce, or drizzled with balsamic vinegar for a delicious side dish.

Or you can just enjoy them plain Jane-style.

Get the recipe here.

2. Fiddlehead Frittata

Nutty and with plenty of texture, they are a great addition to a frittata where they won't get lost in the interplay of flavors.

Get the recipe here.

3. Brown Sugar Miso Fiddleheads

Because they are scarce and not the cheapest bit of produce, they are ideal to make as an appetizer. Their expense is also a good reason not to cover up their natural flavor.

Instead, accentuate their wild taste by coating them with only a hint of sauce.

Get the recipe here.

4. Lemony Fiddlehead + Mushroom Linguini

Add some interest to a comforting pasta dish with fiddleheads. You'll suddenly feel like you're dining at a first class Italian restaurant.

Get the recipe here.

Fiddleheads and Fairies: Fiddlehead Recipes

No need to fiddle around with your fiddleheads anymore! Fiddleheads & Fairies is the ultimate guidebook to fiddleheads. Not only is it filled with 75 fiddlehead recipes, but you'll learn how to pick and cook fiddleheads to your liking.

This post was originally published on March 26th, 2019.